Home to the Kings of Spain from Carlos III to Alfonso XIII, Madrid's Royal Palace is now open to the public. Though it is no longer the royal family's home, it continues to be their official residence.
Long before Madrid became the capital of Spain, Emir Mohamed I chose Magerit (the city's Arabic name) as the site for a fortress to protect Toledo from the advancing Christians. The building was eventually used by the Kings of Castille until finally becoming what would be known as the Antiguo Alcázar (Old Fortress) in the 14th century. Carlos I and his son Felipe II turned the building into a permanent residence for the Spanish royal family. However, in 1734 a fire burnt the Palace of the Austrias to the ground, and Felipe V ordered the construction of the palace that stands today.
Following the untimely death of Filippo Juvara, the architect originally commissioned to design the palace, it was his pupil Juan Bautista Sachetti who eventually drew up the final plans. Seventeen years passed between the laying of the first stone in 1738 and final completion of the work commissioned by Felipe V. However, it was Carlos III (known as the "Mayor of Madrid" due to the large number of reforms and initiatives that he undertook in the city) who became the first monarch to occupy the new building. His successors Carlos IV (responsible for the creation of the Hall of Mirrors) and Fernando VII added many decorative details and furnishings, such as clocks, items of furniture and chandeliers.
The palace, inspired by sketches made by Bernini for the construction of the Louvre in Paris, is built in the form of a square and looks out over a large courtyard with galleries and a parade ground. The decoration of the palace's rooms and their layout has gradually changed over the years as the building has been adapted to suit the needs of its residents.
Particularly noteworthy rooms include: the Main Staircase, designed by Sabatini with over 70 steps; the Throne Hall featuring a ceiling painted by Tiepolo; the Hall of Halberdiers, Carlos III's own room; Gasparini Room, with its grand 18th century decoration on a floral theme; the Royal Chemist's with ceramic pots made by the La Granja factory and the Royal Chapel,which houses a collection of string instruments made by the legendary Antonio Stradivari.
The Royal Armoury is one of the most significant collections of its kind, comprising weapons and armour worn by the Kings of Spain and other members of the Royal Family since the 13th century.
The Painting Gallery is home to a large number of artistic treasures, including Virgin with Child by Luis Morales, Portrait of Isabel la Católica by Juan de Flandes, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Caravaggio and works by such artists as Velázquez, Goya, Federico Madrazo and Sorolla.
The Palace is now used for award ceremonies, royal audiences and banquets and important events such as Spanish National Day, when the royal family greet important figures from Spain's cultural, artistic and social circles, Army Day (6 January), when a reception for high-ranking military officers and members of the government is held in the Throne Room, and the presentation of credentials by new foreign ambassadors arriving to take up their positions in Spain).
The Changing of the Guard is held every Wednesday (except in July, August and September, and when there are official events or adverse weather conditions) at 11am in Puerta del Príncipe (entry on Calle Bailén).